By Vera Starbard
Alaska Children’s Trust was one of the very first financial supporters for Our Voices Will Be Heard. That was no small thing. Because the play was of such a sensitive subject, many organizations and individuals were reluctant to support the play. But as they saw organizations like Alaska Children’s Trust sign on with their support, they were emboldened to support with donations, large and small. The snowball effect of those first organizations’ support was important to the ultimate bottom line of the production.
But what impact does funding really have? For us, it meant more reach. More people reached, more families reached – more lives impacted. It meant we could tell more people about the play through more market reach, reach them with more resources once they were at the play, and then after the play hold workshops to teach them how they could begin to tell their own story.
One such workshop took place near the end of the Juneau run of the three-community production. A handful of people who had seen my play, Our Voices Will Be Heard, heard about our “Healing Through Storytelling” workshop through advertisement at the play, and through local media. They were moved by the play’s message of telling your story, and wanted to learn how to tell theirs. At the workshop, I used art supplies purchased with grant funds to lead them through how I had used several different art mediums over the years to tell my own story of healing from childhood sexual abuse.
After the workshop, I was approached by one of the participants. She was a leader at a local residential treatment program. She found value in the workshop, and wondered if I wouldn’t come and lead a workshop for her residents.
Once I did, with a few members of the cast, it was one of the more enlightening workshops we held over the months. The women in this treatment center had all made the decision to seek recovery from substance abuse of some kind. And, without exception, they had each experienced some form of sexual abuse in their childhood. Once I had shown them what I had done with my own story, they opened up. I taught them about metaphor, and they used the teaching to write metaphors about their own story. It was magical.
We heard stories about white ravens who sought love, but were betrayed by evil foxes. We heard stories about little otters who were terribly hurt by sneaky weasels. And we heard about great eagles who got lost in the wind, but found their way back. The stories were beautiful and honest. That night, the leader told me it was the first time one of the women had made any reference at all to her abuse. And it came through a story.
A few months later, I got a message from that same leader, and she said that some of the women were still writing. They had received from that workshop a beginning. The beginning to storytelling, and a beginning to a new kind of healing. While the “snowball effect” continued, with that workshop leading to another and another, eventually culminating in leading workshops at a behavioral health conference with over 90 people attending a single workshop. But that small room with a few women will remain special. It lead not only to hearing beautiful stories, but was a tool for real childhood sexual abuse healing for women who were seeking it.
Tlingit/Dena’ina Athabascan writer Vera Starbard penned the play, Our Voices Will Be Heard, an allegory about the sexual abuse she had experienced, and the journey she and her mother took.